A Love Letter To… Me (A Mom Who Used to be a Good One, and Still is)
I always knew I was going to be a good mom. When I was young, the moms in my parents’ circle kept my weekends booked with babysitting gigs. I prided myself on being a first-choice babysitter (you know, the babysitter that everyone calls as their first pick to book) and knew I was a favorite with the kids as well. It was clear to me that I was on my way toward being a good mama to my future babies. In high school, I began nannying for a family with three young children. I quickly fell into a routine with them and absolutely loved every minute of it. I cherished the responsibility of helping to bring up these precious children and poured my heart into it. When any of the kids pushed boundaries, I mustered all my child-rearing knowledge, and proudly maintained my role as loving yet firm nanny. I was so good at it! I found that spending time with kids was a bit tiring, but incredibly life-giving. There were easy days and difficult days, but if I presented my authority with love and grace, this “parenting thing” (remember, I was a nanny!) was pretty easy! I knew for certain now that I was already a good mom.
Oh, the arrogance.
When I became pregnant with my fist baby, I was ready. I didn’t read parenting books, but remembered my favorite developmental psychology classes from college, excited to finally get to both influence and witness the growth of my own child from the moment they were born. When my sweet Nora arrived at forty weeks and four days I was elated. Finally, I was getting to be the good mama I knew I was! It wasn’t long before I realized that nannying was drastically and embarrassingly different than the realities of parenting. (Looking back, well duh. Nannying: you show up, you hang out with kids, then you leave. And after you leave, if you forget to think about said kids it’s totally fine. Normal, even. Parenting: game over. It’s the kids all the time. They’re in your head, and you’re all up in their business. And there are no true breaks.) Once I realized my arrogance, I had a good laugh, and then carried on being that mom I’d always wanted to be.
I devoted all my time and energy to Nora, pouring my heart and soul into every aspect of her development. There was reading, and singing, and eye contact, and I talked to her constantly. I held her when she wanted it and soothed her whenever she needed it. I knew exactly what each cry of hers meant and set out to solve every one of them. And before my eyes my Nora was becoming a smart, joyful, confident little girl. Surely, my mothering skills were partially to thank. I was tired but fulfilled because this was how I wanted to parent. This was how it was supposed to be. And I knew I was a good mom.
Two years later, my second daughter Brynn arrived punctually on her due date. I’d spent some time during this pregnancy concerned that the arrival of a second child would encroach upon my time with Nora, but it was important to me that she not be an only child, so this was for the best. It seemed reasonable to expect that I would find ample quality time with each daughter, and I looked forward to parenting both of my sweet girls with the same fierce intentionality I’d come to expect from myself. It was going to be good.
The pressure of being everything to my two beautiful children really got to me. I battled my usually lurking depression like never before. Anxiety colored every decision I made (or struggled to make) and exhausted me to my core. Still, I was determined to parent perfectly. Brynn was my second child, but there was no reason she should receive anything less than one hundred percent from me. I needed to try harder. So after a nearly ten-year hiatus I got myself back in therapy and found an antidepressant dosage that worked better for me. Rather quickly, the psychological clouds drifted away, and I felt the sun’s warmth once again. I noted that a happy, healthy me was a balanced, intentional me. This season of parenting was so magical – I learned about myself, and in turn was able to model emotional intelligence and carefree living for my girls. We learned together, and I proudly watched Nora and Brynn experiencing our world with a healthy sense of wonder at our adventures. I was content. Our family of four (quick and belated shoutout to my husband, Chris!) had it going on: love, adventure, stability, predictability. It was good. We were good. And I was a good mom.
And then after months of waiting, I saw two dark lines appear on my pregnancy test. Finally. It had taken me a while be certain that I wanted to once again grow my heart for another child. In fact, I’d gone through a period that I was so sure I was done that I gave away half my baby gear. But once the decision was made, I was ready to welcome the final member to our sweet little family. Firmly rooted in my identity, I knew I could continue to be a good mom to one more tiny human.
Maybe I should have suspected when the lines on the pregnancy test were far darker than they should have been according to my ovulation date. Perhaps I should have known when I was much sicker, much more depressed (thanks hormones), and much more tired – much sooner. And I probably should have bet on it when I dreamt I was carrying twin boys a few days before my first ultrasound. But I didn’t. So when the Physician’s Assistant I was seeing said, “well maybe it’s twins,” in response to my aggressively unpleasant pregnancy symptoms I laughed it off with a “Twins happen to other people, not me. No thanks.”
I wish I could say that my only reaction to seeing those three tiny blobs on the sonogram screen was shock. But I can’t. I think I may have laughed, but I felt no joy. I know that I felt cold and sweaty all at once, and my sobs kept me in the moment enough to glance at the screen every so often. I could tell that the PA was excited as she examined and snapped picture after picture of the blobs. “This is my first time diagnosing triplets” she noted. I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel it, but the dread in my chest as she showed me each strong, flickering heartbeat startled me. Sensing my distress, she informed me that I had options, and because it was so early there was a good chance one of them would “just disappear” before my next ultrasound. I wasn’t sure if that made me feel better or worse.
After getting dressed and plodding back across the hall to my exam room, I called Chris. “There’s three,” I blurted between sniffs and wails. It took a few minutes to assure him I wasn’t joking (not my style of joke, by the way), and then the only thing I could think to say was that I was so, so sorry.
It didn’t take long for my shock and dread to turn to sorrow and anger. I could write a full-page list of the things I grieved and I could write an even longer list of the things I was angry about. Knowing I wouldn’t get a “normal” birth at the end of what promised to be an extremely difficult pregnancy was uncomfortable to think about. Realizing that there would be no baby on my chest, or even in the same room as me post-delivery, was painful. It didn’t seem fair that any baby of mine would have to miss out on valuable skin-to-skin time and immediate attempts at breastfeeding. My own version of “good mom” included those things and this new unwelcomed scenario didn’t seem to leave much room for “good.”
What angered me the most about all of this, was that my three invader babies appeared despite staggering odds and threatened to undermine everything about me. I had been healthy until three babies took up residence in my uterus and rendered me useless. My new specialist (MFM) instructed me to “survive” and somehow even that seemed a challenge. I had been a good mom, but now I could hardly keep my eyes open long enough to absorb anything my daughters wanted to share with me. Once enthusiastically involved with the girls, I was now practically confined to my bed, wracked with guilt (and nausea). And that was just regarding the pregnancy! Facing the future seemed worse. The babies weren’t even born and yet they were already stealing all of the attention. How dare these three new babies sneak into our family and steal what little energy I had for themselves. I had given one hundred percent of my energy to parenting Nora and Brynn and I didn’t see how I’d be able to mom even a fraction of the way I wanted to going forward. Effectively, the best days were behind me. I knew that once three babies were born, I’d have no time or energy to devote to being the type of mom I wanted to be. There would be no more good mom coming from me.
Much of the anxiety I experienced prior to the triplets stemmed from my own inability to cope well with fussing, unhappy, or uncomfortable children. If my baby cries, my core belief is that it is up to me to immediately figure out the issue and promptly solve it. I can’t help it, it’s instinct. Knowing this, imagining life with three newborns, three teething babies, three…at any stage…was absolutely my nightmare realized. How would I choose which baby to soothe first? How would I have the energy to nurture each baby? How do I make sure each baby gets enough eye contact? How do I feed them all?! We had endless offers and promises of help from friends, family, and strangers alike. Still, there was nothing anyone could say that would convince me that this was going to work. No amount of help could solve that there wasn’t nearly enough of me to go around. Enough help does not create a good mom. And now I was an angry mom.
I spent most of the pregnancy afraid. Afraid that the babies wouldn’t make it, and afraid that they would. At seventeen weeks my doctors again offered to terminate the pregnancy. Tearfully, I thanked them but declined, unequivocally. Later that night, amid the nausea, I realized that I had finally taken back control of the situation. I’d chosen the three tiny growing babies who I now knew were my sons. It was a long, painful road to that point, but it was a decision I was proud of and one I didn’t take lightly.
At twenty-one weeks I felt a baby flip, and although I’d been feeling flutters for some weeks, I responded to him for the first time. An instinctual feeling I’d previously only felt for my daughters welled up within me and I smiled. “Hi, baby.” We were going to be ok.
At thirty-one weeks my body had just about reached the end. I was miserable, but my doctors really wanted us to get a few days further if we could. I pressed on. At thirty-two weeks I was struggling to breathe, my heartrate was elevated, and remaining conscious required concentration. As we headed to the hospital Chris and I discussed the possible scenarios: either my doctors would say it was time and relieve me of my misery or they would ask me to stay pregnant for a few more days, for the babies. Without a doubt, we both knew that if given the option I’d choose to stay pregnant if it was better for the boys. To my utter relief, with a few questions and a quick listen to my heart, it was decided that I’d grown the babies as long as possible. It was time. I giggled (impressive considering I literally couldn’t breathe well) when I realized that again I’d chosen my boys. I was pretty sure my body was beginning to shut down, and yet if my doctors had told me the boys needed me to stay pregnant longer, I would have done it for them. But I didn’t have to make that choice, and it was time to meet my three precious sons, whom I had grown to love and cherish. After months of doubting myself I was beginning to suspect that I just might be able to be a good mom to these boys and their sisters, after all.
At thirty-two weeks and two days, I was ready to become a mom all over again. My nerves were a bit all over the place. I’d never felt so much excitement and fear all at once. As the minutes passed and I was prepped for surgery the feeling of dread started to creep back in, unwelcome, but so familiar. There was no way I’d make it out of this with any ability to care for all these kids….. and then my beloved doctor arrived and plunked herself down on my bed. “Feels like you’re breaking up The Beatles?” her statement kindly posed as a question. For the second-to-last sob session of my pregnancy, she assured me we’d be ok. I’d be ok. The boys were ok and my girls would be more than ok. She gave me the much-needed permission to grieve the end of something good – my sweet little family of four and its familiar stability, my former version of myself, and my motherhood. And so we took a moment and acknowledged all of the good mom moments that had been, and all of the good mom moments sure to come. I will never forget it. I’ll never forget that I broke up The Beatles. I’ll never forget the crippling doubt in my abilities that accompanied it. But I’ll also never forget all of the good that came with that. And until the end of time, there will never stop being good that came from that breakup.
My beautiful triplets were born that afternoon on what is now the happiest day of my life. I’ve heard it said that when a baby is born a mother is born, too. Well, I was born again that day. I’m a very different mom than I was; if I could have seen me now back in my arrogant nanny days, I can assure you I’d not recognize myself. I was a good mom to Nora because I was attentive and loving. I was a good mom to Brynn and Nora together because I fought to be. And I am a good mom to James, Russell, Leo, Brynn, and Nora because I choose every day to be. Breaking up The Beatles gave me a good hard look at what it meant for me to be a good mom. It doesn’t always feel like I’m doing enough, and there are many moments throughout the day that I wish I had more to give my children. But in the end, I’m attentive, and loving, and accessible, and that is very good.
I suspect I’ll always feel that I have room to improve. I still worry about the logistics of comforting three screaming babies. It pains me to tell my girls that I’m too busy feeding their brothers to do a craft with them. I cringe when all five children need me in big ways and I have to attempt to divide my physical and emotional resources into pieces. It’s necessary and healthy, but difficult for me nonetheless. Just last week I called my own mother, convinced I was failing it all miserably. I know my expectations for myself will continuously change. I’m not so naïve to think that I’ve arrived. I don’t have it all figured out. But what I do know is that I love all my children fiercely and intentionally, just like I’ve always wanted to. And I am and will forever find a way to be a good mom.
Briana is a mom to five and currently has her hands full with three beautiful baby boys and two amazing daughters. Her triplet journey has been an incredible one and you can find her on instagram @briana.ve.